Just for once, pre-sportive, I got an early night, and slept right until the alarm woke me up. Which is virtually unheard of! So even though I had a 5:00am start…I didn’t feel as bad about it as sometimes. So where was I going today? The New Forest. For the Cyclofanatic New Forest Rattler. Which meant a very lovely drive up the Gorge, over the top of the Mendips and on beyond, into the rising sun, with the fields around shrouded in low lying mist. All very beautiful, all very positive, all good so far.
HQ for the event was at Moyles Court School, in Ringwood, which my satnav easily delivered me too. The final left turned out to be the long drive towards the school, and so there I was, being marshalled onto what initially looked like a field, but was actually a grass running track. For some reason I wasn’t allowed to join the row of cars growing towards me, but was instead beckoned beyond towards the end of the field and a new row there instead. Ours is not to reason why…
Duly parked up, the walk to where I presumed reception was didn’t look too far, so I decided that would come before faffing. My feet got a little damp walking across the amazingly soft wet grass and weaving through kissing gates and around the out buildings, following the signs, was a bit of a magical mystery tour. I emerged at the front of the buildings, facing the lawns where quite a few riders had clearly camped over night. I wasn’t quite sure where to go next as the signs seemed to have finished. Not that it was going to be too tricky – it wasn’t a big place. On the left was a sports hall building, with free breakfast being served outside, and changing room/toilet facilities inside. I decided to head there first…on the basis that if registration wasn’t there, it was on the right, and I needed the toilet anyway!
So facilities used; registration was clearly somewhere else. When I emerged once more into the sunlight, I spotted a white marquee marked ‘registration’ on the front lawn by the main house, beyond the mechanic’s van. I walked over, and by the marquee was a board with a list of all the riders named alphabetically which you had to check first to get your rider number. Then you could queue in front of the relevant desk to register. Bizarrely my table was very busy…and none of the others were…I guess life is random like that!
Still, there are worse things to do than queue in the sunshine. And yes, it was still sunny, though a bit chilly. I’ve been lucky with the weather lately! Which is cool, because sunshine makes everything better 🙂 The queue wasn’t that long either really, and soon it was my turn. I was presented with a little clear plastic bag containing instructions, my bike number, cable ties, high5 gel, a little packet of haribo, and a token for a free post-ride burger. Separately came my timing chip and a velcro strap to attach it to my ankle with. Novel…not seen anything like that in quite a while, and I hoped it wouldn’t rub at all. The vain part of me did also wondered what it would do to my already bizarre tan lines… 😉
Back to the car to faff then. I had time to kill, so I took my time pondering what layers to wear, if any, what food/gels to carry, where to put them, and putting air in the tyres. Just in case you are at all interested, I decided to go with summer kit, s/s base layer, with gilet in the saddle bag. Faffing done, start time reached, it was time to head for the start. Which was easier said than done. The original path to registration wasn’t fit for bikes, unless you lifted them over the gate…so it was a short ride out and around and back in beyond the Start, so as not to set the timing mat off by riding in over it. The road thus taken back in to the school was horrible though. Chunky sandy gravel. Not fun at all… At least the gravel at the school itself was of a smaller more even variety. It was still stuff you walked the bike over rather than rode, and it was rather uncomfortable to walk on in cleats. I think I preferred the damp grass…
There weren’t that many riders around by then as it happens. I was at the Start line, just beyond Registration, with just a handful of other riders, where a blackboard explained the basics, which were re-iterated informally by a nice gent at the start line, who then sent us on our way. Over the timing mats, and out on to the roads, where a couple of marshals were making sure we didn’t hit cars, and off we went. And the first couple of miles were oddly challenging whilst looking easy. Rolling but in a less than gentle way – short ups you weren’t warmed up for, and short downs that weren’t long enough to get you up the next up. Still, under the trees, with patchy sunlight breaking through, it was all very pretty. Soon we were officially in the New Forest, and then the trees soon turned into more open plain, moorland, type terrain. With the sun shining down, and the odd drag up, I was starting to get quite warm. But when that turned back into what is probably, and unsurprisingly, forest, I was glad of my base layer. And that’s very much how the ride went all day. From one to the other and back again.
I’m not going to give you a step by step break down of the ride, because it was all very similar mostly. In a good way I hasten to add. Rolling stretches of road either in Forest or on plain. Cute villages with lovely names like (my personal favourite) Tiptoe, and Sway. Progress was frequently interrupted by horses, cattle, or donkeys, which doesn’t usually happen to me, and was kinda cool. There were a fair few horse riders to be polite and give a wide berth to, which seemed to be appreciated. Inevitably, there were also quite a lot of cars around from time to time, and occasional main roads to be crossed. The road surfaces weren’t great under the trees, but they were actually better than I expected, and the rest of the roads were pretty good. The signage was ok, though a few more repeaters would have come in useful – I did think I was lost a couple of times. And the sun shone. On my route, there were two food stops, both of which were fairly low key haphazard affairs, by the side of the road, with just flapjacks, banana and water and energy powder, but no toilets which – as you know – always bugs the hell out of me. Still, having to fend off hungry and, unsurprisingly, stubborn donkeys at the second one did sort of make up for that a bit. And in between those stops I flew along in fairly happy fashion. Hey, there are far worse ways to spend a Sunday than cycling around the New Forest in the sun, right?
But I never really got quite into it. There weren’t enough riders around to join up much with, or even chat to in passing. I gather only around 300 riders took part, which would probably explain it. I think, although I was having a nice time, it was because I just couldn’t seem to get into a rhythm. The hills were sort of sneaky. They were frequently under trees, with no views to give you perspective, and a bit featureless. In that after a while, riding along what felt like a normal flattish road, you’d feel like you were finding your ride oddly hard work, and couldn’t figure out why? Brake stuck on again? Lack of form? But then it would occur to me to check the Garmin for gradient, realise it was actually reading 8% or whatever, realise that it was not me feeling crap, it was actually me riding up a hill. So somehow crawler gear never quite got properly engaged? There wasn’t a lot of climbing compared to a lot of sportives, if you look at the stats, but it felt like there was quite a lot of drag going on. And on the long straight bits, which reminded me a lot of Pembrokeshire and Dartmoor, you’d hope there wasn’t wind and that it was behind you, but there was and it wasn’t.
However there was plenty to look at as you rode along. Wildlife, classic cars. Every flash sports car and convertible in the local area, out to enjoy a Sunday drive in the sunshine. Part of the ride took us along the coast, past Lymington, Bucklers Hard, Beaulieu et al…with views over the Solent all the way over lots of little white sails to the Isle of Wight. Lots of other people were out enjoying the roads, which made for a tricky traffic jam stretch on the road towards Lyndhurst, playing with slow moving and occasionally stationary cars to get to the relief of the right turn that took us away from them…boy I bet we were popular!
Other than admiring all of this, listening to my music, and trying to go as fast as I could in the ever growing heat, (my base layer was stashed away at the first food stop), my mind was mostly preoccupied with which route I was actually going to end up doing. The short 47 mile route would have been a bit daft after all that travelling. And, given the lack of real climbing, far too easy. So it was a choice between the Standard 82 mile route and the 102 mile Epic route. A decision which didn’t have to be made until around 70 miles in. And what with the relative flatness of the area, even with those 20 miles containing more climbing than the rest of the ride, I was tempted, as 100 miles as yet eludes me this year. But when it came to it, I was still not quite feeling it, and I was over hot, if not that bothered, and all of the routes get to take in Blissford Hill anyway, I just couldn’t be bothered. Well, with two more weekends and two more sportives in a row to come… I was, oddly, somewhat mindful of what my clinical pain psychologist had told me about pacing myself. I figured it was better not to overdo it this time so as to be able to continue doing it for the events to come. See, I do pay attention sometimes…honest!
So I didn’t turn right. I took 5, chatting to some equally indecisive riders. I took some pictures. And then I went straight on. Happily. I don’t think even I’d known what I was going to decide really…but this felt like the right choice. And put me all of 12 miles or so from HQ, with just that Blissford Hill to negotiate, amongst a lot more pretty. And it’s a doozy of a hill. Sure, it isn’t long. But it is steep. 25% steep. It’s like a wall that goes straight up. Even I got out of the saddle for some of it. Luckily there were only a couple of riders straining up it with me, and the traffic, such as there was, kindly waited at the top for us to finish gurning, try grinning for the inevitable photographer, and head off again, victorious. Much appreciated. And I made it up. No walking for me 🙂 It may only have taken minutes, but man my legs were burning by the top!
That didn’t last long though, and neither did the last few miles back to HQ, even if I did have to stop briefly to evict whatever it was that got stuck under my jersey and stung me three times trying to find its own way out! Arriving back at HQ was totally uneventful, and a tad unceremonious. I rolled over the timing mats, toute seule, and that was it. New Forest Rattler done.
Cycling time: 4:53
Official time: 5:25
Distance: 82.4 miles
Avs: 16.9 mph
Other than a marshal near the end who said well done, that was it for welcoming committee and reception. I put my timing chip, which incidentally I never noticed on my ankle once, into the bucket provided, and that was that. I did have a brief chat with a lady at the timing van, but only because I needed to tell her I’d changed routes. There were a few riders lounging around on the grass either in the sun, or under the now vacated marquee. There seemed to be more life back over by the sports hall building, so I headed over there. Massage tables were set up outside, in the shade of large trees, and were occupied.
I parked the bike, revisited the facilities, and decided I would, for a change, have my free burger. Literally. Just the burger. Well gluten free rolls weren’t an option, and it’s not like I’m ever hungry anyway, so it’s pretty much all I wanted anyway. Besides, it tasted good. I could have bought cake, or coke, but there was no fizzy orange on offer…and I knew there was some in the car, so once I’d consumed my burger, eavesdropping on the masseur and massee behind me, which is why I know that only 300 or so riders did it, I headed back to the car. Whence I discovered that my odd parking location turned out to have been a great one – my car was in the shade! So instead of the oven I was half expecting, the car was pleasantly cool, and so was my fizzy orange. Result! Time to load up, and go home then 🙂
PS: 75 of the what turned out to be 258 or so riders did the 82 mile route. I was 35th. 16 of them were women, and I was 8th. So pretty much midfield all round. Which is better than I used to be. And having never hit the Zone, I’m not surprised it wasn’t better. It wasn’t slow though 🙂